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What's Up in the Environment?
overview | PROCEDURES

  Watersheds


Step 1 - State the Problem
Step 2 - Research, and Hypothesize or Predict
Step 3 - Plan Experiment and Gather Data
Step 4 - Analyze the Data and Make a Conclusion
Step 5 - Take Action
Step 6 - Assessment



Step 1 - State the ProblemMore information about this step

Grasping water basics

Have students begin by defining the following terms: aquifer, groundwater, hydrology, runoff, tributary, watershed, wetland. Afterwards, have students draw a picture or diagram of the different terms, with explanations of how each relates to and impacts the other.

Then have students get additional background information about the importance of our water supply, and the challenges of keeping it clean by watching the WHAT'S UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT video, and revisiting the sites listed below.

Where does your water come from?

Have students keep a record of all the water they use for several days. Record how they used the water and where it came from. Challenge students to find out the original source of the water whenever possible by contacting their local water utility company.

After reading through the Web sites listed below for information about how human activity impacts watersheds, see if students can identify any potential problems for their local watershed.

Resources for step 1

Materials needed

  • Access to the Internet on at least one computer (optional)
  • WHAT'S UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT video (optional)
  • Drawing paper and markers, crayons, or colored pencils

Bookmark these Web sites for student research

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Step 2 - Research, and Hypothesize or PredictMore information about this step

Map and survey local watershed

Once students understand the condition of the body of water or groundwater, they will investigate the health of the local watershed area that contributes to the chosen body of water. They should begin by mapping and surveying their watershed.

For assistance with locating the local watershed area consult the EPA: Surf Your Watershed, or River Network Web site. These sites can either identify the areas, or put you in touch with local officials who can. Your local university's geology department may also be a good source of information. For complete mapping and surveying instructions download the Cyber Ways and Waterways pdf listed below.

Create checklist of general characteristics of healthy bodies of water

Have students develop two separate checklists that note the characteristics for healthy and contaminated bodies of water (make sure to include groundwater). You may want to assign different student groups to investigate the characteristics for different kinds of bodies of water. Use the resources listed below, and talk to EPA officials to find information. Once complete, have the class review the checklists for the most relevant qualities and come up with a master list.

Research what others think about your local body of water

Examine the local watershed map and survey, and compare that with the characteristics of a healthy or contaminated site. Based on this, have student groups choose a body of water, or groundwater site within the watershed that they think may be contaminated. Or, students can choose an area that they think would probably be healthy. Then use the resources below to find out if there are any local groups maintaining the site. You may want to consult with the EPA to ensure that the chosen site is accessible for further study.

Hypothesis

Based on your research, create a hypothesis for this question: Is the water you are studying in this project contaminated? If so, what do you suspect are the major causes of the contamination? If local groundwater and bodies of water are healthy, what do you think is keeping them clean and what must be done to keep them that way?

Resources for step 2

Bookmark these Web sites for student research

  • EPA - Water Atlas
    http://www.epa.gov/ceisweb1/ceishome/atlas/ nationalatlas/ wateratlas.html
    Water Atlas tracks and maps America’s bodies of water, their usage, their health, and steps being taken to improve their quality.

  • Environmental Protection Agency – Contact Information
    http://www.epa.gov/epahome/comments.htm
    Scroll down to the map and click on your region to get contact information for or to e-mail questions to your local EPA office.

  • River Network
    http://www.rivernetwork.org
    The River Network is a national organization that connects river conservationists with the information that they need. The site provides listings of local and national resources. Since there is so much information on this site, you may want to preview it with your students.

Water health information

Watershed information

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Step 3 - Plan Experiment and Gather DataMore information about this step

Now students should plan an experiment and gather data that will help them assess the health of their chosen site.

Tips for planning the experiment

Your local EPA office can be a great resource in assisting with the design of the experiment. Have students contact the EPA, a local university geology department, or groups who are already working at the site to help them design an appropriate experiment for their chosen water site. An alternative is to join forces with another class that has already developed an appropriate project. (Check the Globalschoolhouse, or any other education project registry site to see if there are similar projects in progress).

Data collection tips

Once the experiment is planned, determine how data will be collected. You may want to split your class into two groups, assigning one of the following responsibilities to each:

Group One
Do a site visit in which students fill out their checklist created in step 2 based on what they see. Then, perform tests using the water and soil kits. Use commercially available test kits or borrow free kits from your local university. (See information on how to obtain these kits in the resources section for this step.) Groups of students can be assigned to conduct and record the results of specific tests, such as pH or bacteria tests. If you are joining forces with another class, study their data carefully. Recreate experiments in your classroom when possible.

Group Two
Students should gather information on the Web and interview local scientists and local watershed experts (from watershed groups, the EPA, or local universities or colleges) to determine how the body of water they are studying measures up to the characteristics noted by group one. If the site is being cleaned up, interview clean up workers, environmental experts, and local residents to learn about the effects of the clean up. Try to obtain quantitative data that shows the effects of the clean up so far.

If it's not being cleaned up but appears contaminated, ask why there is no clean up currently underway. Interview local environmental groups, geology professors, etc., to hear what should be done to maintain or restore the health of the water site. Can they address just the site or does the problem link to the watershed?

Resources for step 3

Materials needed

The list will vary to suit your particular experiment design, but you will probably need the following:
  • Water testing kit - you may be able to borrow kits from your local university, or try the sites listed below
  • Soil testing kit - you may be able to borrow kits from your local university, or try the sites listed below
  • Access to the Internet or phone

Teacher tool Web sites

Water testing kits Soil testing kit Local water resources
  • Conservation Information Technology Center: Know Your Watershed
    http://www.ctic.purdue.edu/KYW/Brochures/ GetToKnow.html
    This site provides information on what a watershed is, why watersheds are important, types of pollution that affect watersheds, and how to get to know your local watershed.

  • Earth Force's Global Rivers Environmental Education Network
    http://www.green.org/resources/ #Identifying Watershed Problems
    This Web site offers a wealth of resources for identifying and monitoring contaminated watersheds. It includes an online monitoring database and community action tool.

  • Environmental Protection Agency: Contact Information
    http://www.epa.gov/epahome/comments.htm
    Scroll down to the map and click on your region to get contact information for or to e-mail questions to your local EPA office.

  • EPA Office of Water: Surf Your Watershed
    http://www.epa.gov/surf/
    This section of the EPA site has information on how to locate and learn about watersheds in your area.

  • River Network
    http://www.rivernetwork.org
    The River Network is a national organization that connects river conservationists with the information that they need. The site provides listings of local and national resources. Since there is so much information on this site, you may want to preview it with your students.

  • EPA: Water Atlas
    http://www.epa.gov/ceisweb1/ ceishome/ atlas/nationalatlas/ wateratlas.html
    Water Atlas tracks and maps America’s bodies of water, their usage, their health, and steps being taken to improve their quality.
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Step 4 - Analyze the Data and Make a Conclusion  More information about this step


After gathering their data, the two groups should compare their results. Answer the following:
  • What conclusions can they make about the quality of groundwater or a body of water in their area?

  • What efforts, if any, are being made to clean up or preserve the quality of water they have studied?

  • Is there a discrepancy between the quality of the water they’ve studied and the efforts directed at cleaning it up? That is, is too little being done, just enough, or plenty?

  • Ask them to support their opinions.

  • What steps are needed to protect local groundwater and other bodies of water from future contamination?
Have students present their findings in a PowerPoint presentation or written report, or as a Web site. (See resources on PowerPoint and Web page building listed in the Teacher tool Web sites.)

Resources for step 4

Materials needed

  • Materials for presentations such as paper and markers, or presentation software like PowerPoint

Teacher tool Web sites

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Step 5 - Take Action

Work together as a class to design a campaign that promotes community awareness of the importance of clean groundwater or the body of water you studied. Start by consulting the tips and strategies listed in National Wildlife Federation Web Site http://www.nwf.org/action/howtos/. Then plan the approach that works best for your community. Whichever strategy they choose, students should include information on the relationship between the watershed in which they live and the groundwater or other bodies of water in their area. Include information about safe disposal of chemicals and motor oil, limiting fertilizer use, conserving water, and other practical information that people can use in their everyday lives.

Once complete, send the message out to the community by doing any one of the following:
  • Distribute flyers to people in your community.

  • Visit other schools nearby to talk about your project and tell other students how they can get involved in local water cleanups.

  • Contact or go to a local planning board meeting. This is where real differences can be made in the community. What kinds of building and zoning are the board allowing? How does this impact the watershed? Make a presentation on environmental safety to the board.

Resources for step 5

Bookmark these sites for student research

  • Give Water a Hand
    http://www.uwex.edu/erc/gwah/
    This site is devoted to informing young people about the part they can take in protecting bodies of water. Download action plans and more.

  • National Wildlife Federation: Take Action
    http://www.nwf.org/action/howtos/
    This site gives great advice on how to write to local media, write press releases, plan campaigns, and more.
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Step 6 - Assessment

Throughout the project, encourage students to take pictures, write articles, and interview environmentalists. Once the entire project is complete, have students create an illustrated article, scrapbook, Web site, or video that includes the following elements:
  • Summary of project steps and what was learned in each step from beginning to end. This part should include all the documents created in the previous steps, as well as any photos, video or audio clips, e-mails or letters from people in the field, etc.

  • A short analysis of what worked or didn't work in this project, and why.

  • A description of what you might change or improve upon for next time.

  • A reflection piece that notes what it felt like to undertake this project.

If you choose to do a project that can be posted on the Web, send it to us and we'll post it on the WHAT'S UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT Web site! Make sure to consult our guideline submissions for instructions on how to build and submit your project.

If possible, check back with the organizations you contacted to see if you inspired the community to get involved in water cleanup. Next year, return to the site of your cleanup to see how clean the water is and how you made a difference. Send us your results with a Web site update.

Resources for step 6

Materials needed

  • Either word processing and graphics software such as Word Perfect and Quark, or PowerPoint; or drawing paper and markers

Teacher tool Web sites

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